The Knicks Are Back… and the NBA Is Better For It
Normally, I like things that live in cellars.
Wine, photo albums… pickled vegetables.
But over the past 20 years, one thing has been in the cellar that DOES NOT belong there – are The New York Knicks.
The Return of the Knicks
YET – now that they have won nine straight games and have climbed into 4th place in the Eastern Conference, I am VERY happy to report that the Knickerbockers are back, basketball in New York City is exciting again, and when I heard Madison Square Garden chanting “MVP” at Julius Randle this past week, I got legitimate chills.
New York City hoop is finally back where it needs to be.
Madison Square Garden is Back
Madison Square Garden is The MECCA. The GARDEN. The ULTIMATE place to play. Kobe made it a point to show out when he stepped on this court. So would LeBron, Shaq, and every other NBA superstar who grew up when I did dreaming of those NYC/Broadway lights shining down upon the “World’s Biggest Stage.”
Playing at the Garden used to mean something… But for the last 15 years? Not so much.
No matter how few titles the team has, the New York Knicks were the greatest basketball franchise in NBA history for many years. They may not have won like the Lakers or the Celtics, but when they did, New York City was electric. Spike Lee was the Garden’s Jack Nicholson – just more animated and more involved… The Beastie Boys dropped lyrics like “I got heart like John Starks/Hittin mad sparks…” and the whole city – depending on a winning streak or something as brilliant as “LINSANITY” – would turn into Knicks basketball super fans beyond anything you’ve seen in the modern NBA.
The honor of even playing in MSG meant as much to any visiting player as it did to the city game – Local Street Ball kids at Dyckman or the Rucker were telling their friends that someday, they’d be at the Garden dropping “30 in a game.”
But most of that excitement took place back in the ‘70s, ‘80s, and ‘90s. There was massive hysteria around guys like Willis Reed, Bernard King, Patrick Ewing, Mark Jackson, Charles Oakley, John Starks, etc. But with no title since 1973? The world began to forget about this team. And even when they were terrific? Michael Jordan and his Bulls and Reggie Miller and his Pacers were lurking out there to heartbreakingly shatter NYC hoops fan dreams back during the ”Ewing Years.”
The Tide is Turning
This current Knicks team has done the unthinkable. Originally cast off as another ragtag group of mediocre players, this squad has beaten some of the top teams in the league, established themselves as a legitimate threat to the big dogs in the East, and has made Julius Randle a certified STAR player.
Most Randle-hating Los Angeles Lakers fans never saw that coming, but Randle has matured. He has even mentioned that a training session with the late KOBE turned his outlook on his career around. Since then, he has extended his game, become ridiculously aggressive, and is one of the most fun players to watch on any court nightly. When you pair him with the electric second-year stud RJ Barrett and the most lovable rookie on the court this year – Immanuel Quickley – you have the foundation of a team that can legitimately make a deep playoff run.
How the New York Knicks Turned It Around
A year ago, the Knicks won 21 games. They are currently sitting on 34. They initially drafted poorly (Obi Toppin looks to be less than outstanding) and lost superb big man Mitchell Robinson to a fractured foot early on this year, and in typical fleeting New York fashion, Knicks fans lost faith in their team, people shrugged off another losing season, and dreams of their last winning season – the 2012-13 Carmelo Anthony/Amar'e Stoudemire year – seemed to be less realistic than keeping an NYC apartment Airbnb open during Coronavirus.
But then… Randle came out firing. RJ matured. Quickley became the draft pick Toppin was supposed to be, and Derrick Rose still has some pre-injury moments left in his game. Tom Thibodeau might know what he’s doing – and suddenly, that terrible Porziņģis trade seemed like a pretty decent move. (He’s fine in Dallas, just not the stud we all expected.)
And even though first-round busts like Kevin Knox barely scratch out 11 minutes a game – THE KNICKS ARE A REAL TEAM.
When the New York Knicks Are Good, So Is the NBA
Look, my father is a HUGE Knicks fan. I am pretty sure that when they won the NBA title in 1973 he was living in Tucson, so a couple of years later while growing up, I was told that the Knicks are all I should care about. (Of course, I rejected my dad’s wishes and became a damn Phoenix Suns fan.) But I dunno. The Knicks were always larger than life for me, and I have kept them in my favorite teams forever.
The NBA will forever be better when the New York Knicks are playing well. I will NEVER understand how Kyrie and KD decided that the Knicks were not the destination and Brooklyn was. (Maybe it had to do with Jay-Z?)
Maybe it has to do with that New York City PRESSURE and the BACKLASH you get if you go 0-4 at the plate like Aaron Hicks in a Yankees (baseball) uniform or if you don’t bring the city a title. (Remember the Carmelo backlash after he arrived?) There is an understandable NYC expectation to perform in the City that Never Sleeps. Sadly, I often think back about two years ago when the entire world thought that the Garden was about to acquire two superstars – and they chose BROOKLYN and the CLIPPERS instead…
What the Future Might Hold
Now – it REALLY DOESN’T MATTER. Look out New York – it’s coming. New York City basketball is about to re-enter the pantheon of basketball greatness. I would say that if a guy like ZION WILLIAMSON signs with the Knicks as a free agent in a year or two – and if they’re able to keep their core together right now – we could be looking at a finals contender in the Big Apple for at least five years.
And that is what the Knicks, New York City, and NBA basketball fans across the world need. Big-time programs and big-time cities winning big-time championships.
It’s been a long time since Larry Johnson and Latrell Sprewell were on the court, but their legendary status has the city hoping that this new crop of players will garner the respect of those who came before them. Will RJ, Randle, and Robinson be the next MSG poster children? I sure hope so – because they have the fans looking for some heroes in the Big Apple.
If I was a movie producer? I’d put THAT in the next Spike Lee movie…
“KNICKS GOT GAME.”